My father held my face in his bloodstained hands. Growing up, he never showed me much affection. He was cold, callous and always eager to explain to me that a man had best keep his emotions to himself, lest he wanted to give the impression that he was a sissy. But this night, my father radiated warmth. I felt his hands on my cheeks and looked into his glassy eyes. The thick smell of iron hung in the air, and just for a moment, I let myself soak it all in, grabbing each detail and putting them in a trunk of memories like a pirate stowing away treasure.
“Son, you don’t let another man come into your home and threaten the safety of you and yours. You understand that?”
“This man,” My father took one hand off my cheek to point to a bloodied body on our living room floor.
“This man said he needed my help, our help. But this man was in no real danger son, what he wanted was to come into my home, our home and take what I have worked so hard to build. You don’t let a man do that, you understand that, son?”
“I said do you understand?”
The Bloody man was slithering along the floor towards my father who had his focus entirely on me. I didn’t want to show my father I was scared so I said, “yes, sir.”
My father put his pointing hand back on my cheek and when he did, I saw that a tear was beginning to form on the lower lid of his eye. I didn’t know my dad was a sissy.
The bloody man was now closing the distance between him and my father, who was down on one knee and completely unaware of that crimson snake behind him. I like snakes. Sometimes if they’re real hungry, they’ll eat their own young to survive. Snakes aren’t sissies. Snakes aren’t weak.
Maybe my dad deserved what happened next. The bloodied man grabbed a knife beside my dad and lunged up at him. He stuck my dad once near his neck and they both went to the ground. I took a step back and watched them wrestle. At the time I thought they looked like dogs in heat, grunting every now and then as they scratched and clawed at each other.
It wasn’t long before I couldn’t tell the difference between the two bloodied men rolling around on the ground. Eventually I saw one arm go up, knife in hand and deal the final blow. Both men went still for a second before the man I could now see was my dad rolled over and leaned against the corpse on the floor.
He was out of breath and struggling to get a hold of himself.
“Come here son.”
I walked over to him. In all my life, even to this day I’ve never seen victory look so miserable. He put his hands on my shoulders and pulled me in for a hug. He whispered into my ear, “I love you son.”
It was the only time my father ever told me he loved me. The warmth was unlike anything else I’ve ever known. I think I could sit on the sun and it wouldn’t feel as warm. I wanted to say it back to him, I really did, but I didn’t want my dad to think his son was a sissy, so I didn’t. My dad died that night.